Blog post by Tom Cuthbertson
There is an entitlement in every court to represent yourself in any hearing and there are a number of protections for self-represented litigants, particularly in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, to prevent undue prejudice to your matter. In divorce, separation and child custody issues, self-representation is generally considered to be difficult and time-consuming, especially since the parties are often also juggling work commitments or looking after children.
The Family Court of Australia publishes a number of fact sheets in order to assist those who represent themselves. These sheets address matters such as the filing of documents, court dress and conduct and procedural matters. They even provide guides as to how to access computers and the internet for those who might not have access at home. Duty solicitors (provided by the Legal Services Commission) or duty registrars may be able to provide assistance to self-represented persons, and while court staff cannot provide legal advice they are extremely helpful in explaining deadlines, filing procedure and can provide do-it-yourself kits for certain forms and applications.
Representing yourself, however, has the potential to be a risky endeavour. It can be very difficult for people undergoing a traumatic separation or dealing with property settlements and child custody issues to approach their own case with the degree of objectivity that is often required to be able to achieve the best result. There is, in short, no substitute for the expertise and experience of trained solicitors and barristers in knowing how to conduct a matter in the best interests of a client.
When considering representing yourself, particularly due to financial pressures, it is important to consider the complexity of the matter and whether the savings can be considered a false economy. It might, for example, appear to be cheaper to represent oneself in a property settlement but ultimately prove to be more costly when you factor in the differential between the outcome of the split, the amount of time taken off work or other commitments to prepare for the matter as well as the stress involved.
If you believe your financial situation prevents you from engaging private lawyers, it is strongly recommended that you consult the Legal Services Commission or your local community legal centre to see if you qualify for legal assistance. Additional resources for self-represented parties include the Family Law Courts website and the Family Court of Australia website. Our ‘Resources‘ page also includes some handy links.
Contact Tom Cuthbertson of Culshaw Miller Divorce & Family Lawyers in order to discuss if being self-represented is appropriate for you, or to discuss how we can assist you in the matter to allow you to represent yourself with our guidance.